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Play Christmas Music on the Piano

Updated on November 21, 2012
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JohnMello is a writer, composer, musician and the author of books for children and adults.

It's never the wrong time of year to learn "reindeer" music
It's never the wrong time of year to learn "reindeer" music | Source

Hello and welcome to another piano lesson designed to help you get around the piano keyboard more comfortably. This time we're going to mix things up a bit with a piece that's easy to play on one level but slightly tricky on another. And since I'm writing this in the middle of November, I decided to base this lesson on a tune that has a Christmas feel to it, although it's something you might be happy to play at any time of the year.

The piece we'll be using for this lesson is called Rudolph's Cousin - because it's based on the first four notes of the song Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. You can see, hear and print the score by browsing to its page on Score Exchange.

P.S. Do you know which other Christmas song uses the same 4 notes in its opening melody? Take the quiz below to see if you can work it out.

Piano Lesson Eight Hand Positions

For this lesson we're going to go hand position crazy. To make it more of a challenge, the piece modulates or changes key twice as it unfolds, giving it a nice 3-part structure. The second section switches the melody from the right hand to the left as well, so there are lots of technical details to watch out for.

We start off in the key of C major, with the left hand in the normal C position - finger 5 on C below middle C. The right hand is going to be slightly stretched, putting it in the position you would assume if you were playing the C chord in its second inversion, i.e. the notes E, G and C reading from the bottom up. Here's a picture of the first right hand position to make it crystal clear:

The first right hand position
The first right hand position | Source

This hand position begins in the second bar. At bar 6 you'll be using the same hand position, but this time you'll need to move your hand down the keyboard one note so that your fingers lie over the notes D, F, G and B reading up from the bottom. Here's another picture:

Move your hand DOWN 1 note
Move your hand DOWN 1 note | Source

Practise playing the notes that relate to the hand position to get used to the feel of it. When you're ready, dive in and see what you can do. Remember the golden rules of learning to play a piano piece: start with one hand at a time and work in small sections of 4 bars or so. Do that until you reach the first double bar line which marks the end of section 1.

Piano Lesson Eight: Section Two

Once you've got the first section of the song under your belt, it's time to move on. Section two is where the left hand takes over the melody. There's also a key change to D major, so watch out for the two sharps.

To play this section your left hand will assume the same hand position as the right hand did in section 1. Your left hand works in the opposite direction, though, so you'll need to start with finger 5 on D, finger 3 on F sharp, finger 2 on A and finger 1 on B, as in the picture below:

Left hand position for section 2
Left hand position for section 2 | Source

This section is the trickiest of the three, not just because the left hand plays the melody, but also because the right hand plays a continuous quarter-note rhythm in solid chords. The rhythms in the two hands seem to be working against each other - the right hand rhythm is steady and simple while the left hand rhythm is syncopated and more complex - and that can make it more difficult to get it under control.

Start by practising the left hand melody on its own. When you've got that, work on the right hand on its own. Then put the two together by playing the right hand chords as solid chords lasting for a full bar, as in the example below:

Solid right hand chords for practising
Solid right hand chords for practising | Source

Next, practise one hand at a time again, humming or imagining how the missing hand will sound. Then try combining the two hands. If you can't do it, repeat the process until you can. That's what practice is all about.

A bolder left hand accompaniment in section 3
A bolder left hand accompaniment in section 3 | Source

Piano Lesson Eight: Section Three

The final section of the piece repeats the opening section but with a couple of twists. First of all, it's in the key of E flat major, so it's moving up another semitone. Secondly, the left hand has a bit more meat to it now, playing broken chords instead of single notes as in section 1.

In the score there are no indications for loud and soft. Since there are three sections in total, and since the music continues to move into a higher key, it might make sense to make the final section the loudest. You could start the piece moderately loud, tone things down a bit in the middle section, and then finish off with a rousing finale. This arrangement works well for section 2 in particular. Here the left hand has to dominate - as it's playing the tune - and you'll need to try and keep the right hand chords subdued so they don't drown the melody out.

And that's all there is to it. If you enjoyed this lesson, please check out some of my other piano-related hubs. If this is your first visit, be sure to drop by Piano Lesson One for a whole bunch of free piano lessons.

And don't forget to try your hand at the quiz below. Good luck!

Test Your Knowledge!

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